Before I left for Milan, Tuesday before last, I googled perfume shops in the area. I needn't have bothered, as there are perfume shops all over the place--in a week, I probably passed thirty, at least--but google brought me to Profumo on Via Brera, and another shop a few blocks down on the same street, so it wasn't a total waste.
Profumo is run by a man who seems to know what he's talking about, though he speaks only passable English. The place has the usual niche suspects (Malle, Diptyque) as well as the harder to come by: I got to smell some of the Lorenzo Villoresi line, the new Heeley, Parfum d'Empire, Mona di Orio, Keiko Mecheri, and Profumi del Forte, an Italian line, my favorite of which was Roma Imperiale, an addictively light but persistent Shalimar-influenced oriental with Bergamot, mandarin, neroli, rose-wood, coriander seed, cinnamon, tomato leaves, orchid, jasmine absolute, tuberose absolute, ylang-ylang, iris butter, Turkish rose essence, seringa, civet, oak moss, grey amber, vanilla, and sandalwood in the mix.
Of the Villoresi, I liked Piper Nigrum and Spezie, which were similar: peppery and robust. The feminine fragrances I liked less. I almost walked away with a bottle of Piper Nigrum, but, projecting ahead, I couldn't see myself reaching for it all that often.
I'd never smelled Mona di Orio either (the perfumes, not the woman). I might have passed altogether on them at first sniff. Luckily, I sprayed some on--Oiro to one hand, Nuit Noire to the other--and enjoyed the depth of their development on my skin over the next several hours. If, as Luca Turin wrote, Nuit Noire is a loud fart of civet, smother me in farts, please. A spicy oriental, it smells different on me at different times, sometimes powdery, sometimes leathery, first floral, then gingered. I've heard reports that di Orio no longer has a US distributor, which would be a shame. The bottles are as gorgeous as the scents.
I returned to Profumo about four times over the course of the next week, spending time with L'Eau Trois ( a nice, dry frankincense from Diptyque; has this been discontinued?), Fougere Bengale (Holy Immortelle!), Andy Tauer (Incense Rose and Lonestar Memories) and more of the Parfumerie Generale line (Coze, anyone?). Eventually, I purchased a bottle of Nuit Noire. Let's hope I can get it back safely in my suitcase.
Down the street was a shop specializing in Penhaligons fragrance. Abigail sent me a bottle of Violetta before I left the country. It's good stuff. So is Elixir, by Olivia Giacobetti. Company copy says Elixir was inspired by Hammam Bouquet, which I own and like well enough, but I'm not sure I see the connection. Elixir lacks the weird, slightly vexing plastic note of Hammam. It's spicier and has more depth. Osmoz lists the following notes: orange, eucalyptus, mace, cardamom, jasmine, ginger, rose, woods, resin, tonka bean, vanilla, and benzoin. All of this, save the jasmine maybe, is discernable to me. I wish Elixir lasted a bit longer, or persisted with the intensity of its opening, but those first thirty minutes might be worth the price of admission.
Aside from these shops I had the best time at 10 Corso Como. The eponymously titled house blend bored me, but there was a lot besides to enjoy. I'd never really given Byredo much of a chance. Pulp is fantastic, and the staying power is equally remarkable. I got to see the Comme des Garçons/Stephen Jones bottle up close, and bought one to take home. Is there a more unusual violet fragrance? Probably not. 10 Corso Como had all the Tom Ford Private Blends, and the Histoires de Parfums, which Abigail and I have been enjoying lately. It was the only place I found any Serge Lutens in Milano (with any kind of selection to speak of, that is). It had some Caron, though not much. Some By Kilian. Some Malle. Some stuff I forget. Mostly it was great to walk around the store, which sells outrageously priced clothes and jewelry, much of it pretty unusual.
While in Milan I also picked up some old favorites. Hermes Caleche EDP, L'Heure Bleue, and, joy of all joys, Clinique Wappings, which I might have gotten in the states but only after waiting until Christmas. At a remote Profumeria I found bottles of Knize 10, Knize Sec, Knize Two, and Knize Forest. I bought Knize Sec, which is an unusual smell I'll try to describe after spending more time with it.
The abundance of perfume in Milano was thrilling. But I was disappointed by how rarely I smelled any on anyone. Several times I passed women whose perfume left a trail of dreamy goodness behind. Not once did I pass a guy reeking of cologne, and I can't tell you how much I'd been looking forward to this. Mistakenly, I was under the impression that men here bathe in the stuff. I envisioned them standing at the sink, splashing eau de whatever into their open palms, slapping their naked chests. Invariably in these fantasies they were dressed in their underwear and flip flops. Then they made me ricotta pie and pesto pasta. Then we spent some alone time, and I got high, up close, on their cologne of choice. The closest I got to this kind of religious experience was the Duomo.